Having trouble seeing in the dark? You should probably be eating more carrots. Why? Well -- I'm sure someone older and wiser once told you.
The truth is that during the blitzkrieg of 1940, the UK government issued blackouts across the city of London in order to obfuscate Nazi targets. The Royal Air Force in turn was able to intercept many bombers before they even reached the target of their air raids. The British propaganda machine began generating flyers and spreading rumors that the airmen were eating more carrots, and that the English ability to see through the darkness was a result of an uptick in carrot consumption, when the answer was really that they had secretly discovered RADAR. While it is doubtful that this myth helped win the war, it caught hold amongst the public, spawning a number of children's cartoon characters like "Dr. Carrot" and a huge surplus in carrot production in Europe. The myth also lived on to today because people swallowed it and passed it on. While carrot rumors may seem banal, it is the decades-long example of false data that kept people from thinking and talking about relevant topics of Vitamin A consumption and nutrition.
In a similar way, this Sunday is also responsible for providing a target for one of the most pervasive myths about domestic abuse: that reports of domestic violence against women are higher on this day than any other day of the year. But does that have anything to do with the game of football itself?
In 1993, a group of advocates appeared on television, making this now oft-cited claim, that the game provides the backdrop for violence in homes across the U.S. They cited the game of football as being violent (certainly true) and linked this to the ceremony surrounding its most-watched game. This half-truth was then parroted across paper headlines and TV talk-shows until it was accepted as fact.
The truth is that violence in the household sometimes spikes during the holidays, but existing data does not show any significant correlation between incidents and time of year. As a large portion of abuse goes unreported, it is important to only consider this data as "reported incidents."
The perpetuation of the Super Bowl myth has potentially harmful consequences. By making the domestic violence about the date on the calendar rather than the reprehensible act itself, the game becomes yet one more excuse in the arsenal of apologies for domestic violence, along with: "oh, he just has a temper," "she was asking for it", and "this only happens once a year." By leaning on this faulty data, by allowing football and the Super Bowl to become the scapegoat, we shift the culpability from the people who commit these horrid acts, and stunt the dialogue necessary to encourage others to report and ultimately prevent them.
This year the National Football League was under siege for a number of shockingly public displays of aggression and abuse by some of its star players. The targets of this abuse have not been the players of the opposing team, clad in scientifically-perfected polycarbonate alloy helmets, but rather their partners and children.
It is not at all surprising that the PR department at the NFL chose this season to begin airing spots featuring their players speaking directly into the camera about domestic violence and promoting the organization NoMore.org. And one can't help but notice the increase in frequency of these ads as we draw closer to Super Bowl Sunday.
The upcoming ad to be aired during the game will surely shock a lot of people, and rightfully so. It features a 911 call placed by a victim of abuse, panning through scenes from a house in disarray. The ad is disturbing, just as these issues ought to be, but the desired conversation may be overshadowed by the public/press reaction to the NFL's ad itself. It is uncomfortable for anyone to talk about domestic violence, but it needs to be talked about, rather than simply dismissed with a suspension or fine.
The victims (such as the one portrayed in the ad) are often kept silent. Domestic violence is a problem that cannot be solved through silence. We can only make progress through a multifaceted and coordinated effort that begins with dialogue and awareness of the actual facts, not half-truths and speculation.
When faced with an intractable problem like domestic violence, it is just as bad to be a passive onlooker as it is to put forward a false narrative or half-truth. To the people that think "So what, the myth helps bring awareness", if the issue is just boxed into one day, on one sport, we risk wasting energy on fixing just a corner of the issue. Like putting out a fire in the kitchen while neglecting that is has actually spread through the house and beyond -- we can't risk attention just being burned out on one day's violence myth.